Marx on the History of His Opinions

Marx Engels Reader

The first work which I undertook for a solution of the doubts which assailed me was a critical review of the Hegelian philosophy of right, a work the introduction to which appeared in 1844 in the Deutsch-Franzosische Jahrbiicher, published in Paris. My investi­gation led to the result that legal relations as well as forms of state are to be grasped neither from themselves nor from the so-called general development of the human mind, but rather have their roots in the material conditions of life, the sum total of which Hegel, following the example of the Englishmen and Frenchmen of the eighteenth century, combines under the name of “civil society,” that, however, the anatomy of civil society is to be sought in political economy…The general result at which I arrived and which, once won, served as a guiding thread for my studies, can briefly formulated as follows: In the social production of their life, men enter in definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite state of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political, and intellectual life process in general.  It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or – what is but a legal expression for the same thing – with the property rela­tions within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution. With the change of the economic foundation the entire immense superstruc­ture is more or less rapidly transformed. In considering such transformations a distinction should always be made between the mate­rial transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, aesthetic or philosophic – in short, ideolog­ical forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as our opinion of an individual is not based on what he thinks of himself, so can we not judge of such a period of transfor­mation by its own consciousness; on the contrary, this conscious­ness must be explained rather from the contradictions of material life, from the existing conflict between the social productive forces and the relations of production. No social order ever perishes before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed; and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself. Therefore mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve; since, looking at the matter more closely, it will always be found that the task itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution already exist or are at least in the process of formation. In broad outlines Asiatic, ancient, feudal, and modem bourgeois modes of production can be desig­nated as progressive epochs in the economic formation of society. The bourgeois relations of production are the last antagonistic form of the social process of production – antagonistic not in the sense of individual antagonism, but of one arising from the social condi­tions of life of the individuals; at the same time the productive forces developing in the womb of bourgeois society create the mate­ rial conditions for the solution of that antagonism. This social for­mation brings, therefore, the prehistory of human society to a close.


1. Tucker, Robert C., Karl Marx, and Friedrich Engels. The Marx-Engels Reader. New York: Norton, 1978. Print. 5-6.


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Filed under Economics, Notes on History, Philosophy

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